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South Africa sells out World Cup tickets

Residents angry at FIFA restrictions and question if they will benefit from the tournament.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Irene Mokwatu, 53, wears a plastic garbage bag wrapped around her waist to protect her dress from the dust she is sweeping off the street.

"I was born here," says Mokwatu, 53. "This World Cup will not benefit us, they won't even let us sell mautuana during the cup."

She leans over, with a big smile, to make sure I spell the word right. "Mautuana is what we Africans like to eat when we see football. It is salted chicken's feet and livers," she says with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye.

She is sweeping in the shadow of Ellis Park stadium, where several of the World Cup games will be played in the center of Johannesburg. Despite some obvious makeovers, the neighborhood looks poor, even slightly dangerous. A few shops are open, others are shuttered. Some homeless people are gathered around a sidewalk can fire to ward off the chill from the Southern Hemisphere winter.

In six weeks the kickoff will happen at Soccer City and South Africa is busy getting ready to host the World Cup. Accommodation is filling up and nearly every ticket for the matches has been sold. For the first time since the United States hosted the tournament, every game is sold out.

But many local business owners feel they have been left out in the cold over the World Cup. The nearby shopkeepers are worried about reports that the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) and the Johannesburg city council will not permit shops to be open during World Cup game days. They have not been contacted by the Johannesburg city council or FIFA about trading during game-days, according to several shop owners.

Some, like Rene Edropia, who runs the Edropia and Grace Trading shop, opened their businesses with the express purpose of catering to football fans. At his shop, fans can use the internet, call cheaply all over the world, buy snacks and fix their cell phones.

"If they won't let us trade during the World Cup, then we can't pay our rent. It's that simple," he said, putting his elbows on the glass counter, looking concerned. "When they decide if we can trade or not, they have to send us an official notice, we have received nothing so far."

It's a rough neighborhood, and the police stand close together as if fearful of their safety. The officers say they have no idea if the area will be closed to trading during games, but outside of this poor and depressed neighborhood, a national debate is taking place. Front-page stories in South African newspapers reported about recently published by-laws that FIFA required the government to pass. The wide-ranging regulations surrounding World Cup games restrict everything from hanging laundry out to dry, to who can ride a horse and whether someone like Mokwatu can sell her mautuana.

Behind this situation on a poor urban street is another, more disturbing picture of FIFA's strict policy it is exerting over this country, even at the highest levels.